Newspersons are making news more these days than writing and commenting on news. When hacks get into the business of making the news; when the purveyors of news become news themselves; rest assured there is something terribly wrong with the ?business? of news. For sometime even the newsmakers ? both the genuine and page 3 varieties ? find them relegated to the background as the news hacks hog the limelight. It is for these compelling reasons that the temptation to write about news hacks and news barons becomes irresistible.
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, there was a current affairs how in Russia, called Naked Truth, which featured a semi-nude newsreader who undressed before the camera, interviews conducted by barely clad journalists, and a striptease artist who forecast the weather.
The programme, rather than inviting censure, had a cult viewing. As far as one knows, there has been no public outcry by women?s groups or concerned citizens against this programme, telecast by a Moscow television channel. Its defenders abound, choosing to see it as a satire on Russian leaders and journalists.
The actress who reads the news inadvertently makes a hilarious claim: ?The goal is to make us stand out and force people to take notice.? It may be pertinent to ask, take notice of what? In fact, the creator of the show conceded that the titillating elements combined with serious news make for comedy, and that the viewers ?watch? and not listen.
Television, which is disliked by print media purists for its apparently superficial approach to hard news and incessant quest for sensation, now stands in danger of being further denigrated.
While it is unlikely that television in India, for instance, would come to such a sorry pass in the event of the complete dominance of free market economics, the hold of this image-building machine on people?s minds remains mesmerized. Some years ago, as a preemptive measure, residents of two housing societies in Mumbai got rid of their television sets.
Observing the deleterious effect of the box on their progeny, they adopted a very simple method for undoing the damage: they simply pushed their sets out of the window.
It may be argued that a daily or nightly onslaught of sitcoms, soap operas, hyped up news telecast and film-based programmes can hardly be good for the health of the mind. The escalating violence in society is often attributed by sociologists to the visual impact of the excesses of television on impressionable minds.
Fortunately for the television industry, the trend of destruction started by the Mumbai families has not caught on. But there have been some casualties along the way, with a growing number of viewers in the very young age group reported to be suffering from personality disorders. The popular serial for children, Shaktimaan, that portrayed a superman-like cre?ture who defies natural laws, has already claimed a few young victims, some reports have said.
Human beings, as a rule find it difficult to practice self-restraint in the face of temptation ? mark the betting scandal in cricket and control imposed from outside tend to curb their anarchic instincts. This is not to suggest that a draconian censorship, of the kind that characterised the notorious emergency, is required to straitjacket the media, or other modes of self-expression.
The period of Emergency, imposed on June 26, 1975 by the Indira Gandhi regime to muzzle all dissent, represents the other extreme of too little freedom. The newspapers of the day were strictly monitored, and some publications like Mainstream even ceased publication for a while as a mark of protest.
Both the political and economic order has long since changed. In this climate of greater freedom, news readers on television are still unlikely to emulate their Russian counterparts since traditional inhibitions prevail and neither the polity nor the economy are in shambles. Serious reportage is still done within conventional parameters. Laws on obscenity and scurrilous writing continue to be in force, thereby discounting excursions into areas where angels might fear to tread. However, there remain news channels and news anchors who believe that as far as news goes, sensationalism matters and not hard facts!
Deployed judiciously restrictions on press freedom serve to keep the media off the edge by making it accountable for its lapses.